By Holly Cain, IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to past success and high expectations, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more heralded group of teammates than the Acura Team Penske lineup for the Jan. 26-27 Rolex 24 At Daytona.
As it has done seamlessly in the past, the team has brought together a diverse and accomplished group of drivers to contend for the season-opening trophy in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s annual twice-around-the-clock event.
Penske’s high-achieving lineup this year features three Indianapolis 500 winners, a pair of IndyCar champions and some of the finest sports car competitors in the world.
The No. 7 Team Penske Acura ARX-05 DPi will be driven by three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2017 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion Ricky Taylor on a full-time basis, with help next weekend from 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, whose lone Rolex 24 appearance to date came in 2014 as part of the DeltaWing driver lineup.
The No. 6 Team Penske Acura will again be driven full time this season by two-time Indy 500 winner and former NASCAR and Formula 1 star Juan Pablo Montoya and 2016 WeatherTech Championship Prototype champion Dane Cameron. Joining them for the Rolex is Simon Pagenaud, who won the 2016 IndyCar title with Team Penske.
And judging by their time both in front of the cameras and in the garage during the recent Roar Before the Rolex 24 test weekend, the group has already begun to gel in an effort to land the big trophy in the season-opening event.
“There are so many things we developed in the offseason and now hopefully we’ll be able to deliver,’’ Castroneves said. “Alex [Rossi] has joined us and good news is he’s using the same seat as [last year’s Penske driver] Graham [Rahal] so he ‘fits right in.’ Hopefully we’ll get the results we deserve.”
Certainly, this race is an important part of Penske’s illustrious racing contribution. He’s won the Rolex three times, including overall in 1969 with the late Mark Donohue and Chuck Parsons.
Last year, the two-car Acura Team Penske program returned to sports car competition full time and placed ninth and 10th overall at Daytona. In qualifying, Castroneves put the No. 7 car on the outside pole position, and both cars ran competitively before midrace issues ended their hopes of winning.
Castroneves and Taylor scored the only victory for the team in its sports car return at the Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course in May. They led a 1-2 sweep for the team, with Montoya and Cameron’s No. 6 entry crossing the finish line close behind.
A victory at Daytona this year would go a long way to setting the tone for a championship-contending season. Taylor was third and Montoya was seventh in the qualifying session that concluded the Roar and set the order for garage and pit selections.
“We learned a ton in our first season, so I think we’re really ready to hit the ground running and make a push for the championship,’’ said Cameron.
For Rossi, who competes full time for the Andretti Autosport team in IndyCar, this race is essentially opportunity with expectation.
“Our expectation is to win,’’ Rossi said smiling. “I think we have the platform to do that. If you look at the success the team had last year as a new team coming in, they had a learning curve to catch up to the other teams and I think they did an amazing job with that.
“Already going into this year there’s a lot of talk about how much progress they’ve made, so I think that warrants good expectations. These teammates are some of the best on the grid, I think, and I feel fortunate to have them coach me up as quickly as possible.’’